With the third anniversary of the sinking of the Cheonan, the suspicion on the left that the LMB government commission fabricated evidence is being kept alive by Hankyoreh. When we issue our usual caveat–”you be the judge”–there is typically some body of evidence that an intelligent observer can assess. In this case, the devil is in details that are difficult if not impossible for non-scientists to judge: not just issues such as the existence of a Yono-class submarine and the problem of ‘No. 1’ marking on the propulsion section of the torpedo, but the veracity of corrosion rates on CHT-02D torpedo and the inconsistency of the torpedo explosion and seismic wave data used by the investigative commission. The focus of the current effort to revive the investigation focuses on the so-called absorbing material created during the underwater explosion experiment and its consistency with what was found on the hull and propulsion section of the fired torpedo. Critics think that these tests should be rerun. Don’t hold your breath.
Yet we can speak a bit to the politics. The revelation of a summit approach by the LMB government suggests that the sinking of the Cheonan was not the only thing going wrong in North-South relations in the first several months of 2010. After an apparent thaw in the fall of 2009–when “grand bargains” were all the rage–the LMB government shut down North Korean hopes by refusing to pay the lavish sums that the North Koreans wanted to host a summit. Relations subsequently soured badly, even before the sinking of the Cheonan. It is thus worth posing the counterfactual of whether things would have really been that different had the Cheonan not been sunk, particularly given the combination of a hard-line (or at least non-appeasing) approach in Seoul and the steady march toward a nuclear capacity that had been signaled in early 2009 on the party of Pyongyang.